Losing her religion

Televangelist Joel Osteen's wife sued for anxiety, hemorrhoids and shaken faith.

Published August 8, 2008 10:27AM (EDT)

Here's a weird one: About three years ago, a Continental Airlines flight attendant named Sharon Brown accused Victoria Osteen, wife and co-pastor of uber-preacher Joel Osteen, of assault. The incident, for which the Federal Aviation Administration has already fined Osteen $3,000, took place prior to a flight from Houston to Vail, Colo. Apparently, the scuffle was over a stain on Osteen's first-class seat and involved some boob-elbowing (ouch!).

Now, I like a good televangelist takedown as much as the next girl, but what actually interests me about the ensuing lawsuit are the claims Brown is making. The suit alleges that the run-in with Osteen caused Brown anxiety, hemorrhoids ... and loss of faith. Personally, I was lost at hemorrhoids. I understand they can be stress-related, but is there any way to prove that an encounter with an irate passenger caused a flight attendant to develop a literal pain in the ass?

More important, is it fair to charge Osteen with affecting Brown's faith? I'm not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that it should take more than a bum experience with the wife of a preacherman to shake a true believer. It can be disillusioning, I'm sure, to learn that an admired clergy member isn't above airplane fisticuffs, but come on. If Victoria Osteen's bad behavior drives you to a crisis of faith, you were probably heading for one sooner or later.

The legal implications of the Osteen case worry me a bit, too. We all know that you can sue someone for "emotional damages," but can we expect to see "loss of faith" cited in future suits? A law student friend assured me the "loss of faith" angle wouldn't stick unless accompanied by a nasty tort like assault, but still -- is it ever legitimate to hold someone else liable for your own religious doubts? And who's to say that loss of faith is necessarily a bad thing, anyway?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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